WAITING FOR DAYBREAK

img_3570Today’s poem:

 

WAITING FOR DAYBREAK

 

clatter of steel chimes

crackle of bare oak branches

night birds find the sky

 

 

It is not yet what I would call

today, the sun not yet piercing

black clouds in a black sky

the garden only a memory

of brilliance, a recollection

of color and movement

a charming tale told a child

when rain has kept her

trapped inside with old toys.

 

I stand upon the night-cloaked

garden deck facing east, my eyes

straining to mark the exact second

light occurs at the mountain ridge,

the moment objects real or dreamed

return to focus. With a full heart

I pray that moment comes, hope

dawn is as I remember it, filled

with the sound of wings lifting.

 

 

 

 

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Dark Dawn

This I share in response to proposed fracking in Nottingham. I thought we were well beyond that danger back in the early ’90s when coal mining under Newstead Abbey was threatened. Public outraged stopped it – part of that outrage being my poem Dark Dawn, a poem inspired by Byron’s poem, Darkness. I think we need to be reminded.

 

DARK DAWN

From the peaceful slumber of Eternity
I woke into a nightmare world.
A century and more my weary spirit
Had reposed within the healing halls
Of Death’s sweet palace, prisoner
No more to mortal cares and chaos.
When thunder like a million planets grinding
From their ordered orbits rent my sleep,

And I awoke upon a silent, ravaged hill.
The rotten stumps of ancient oaks
Like broken tombstones slumped
Beneath a shroud of brown and withered
Ferns, the sky a raven’s wing, the pallid sun
A corpse light rising from a vast depression
Stretching far beyond the limits of my view.
The only living thing a cloud of iridescent

Insects whirling at the crater’s rim.
The depths were sheathed in shadow, yet
I knew whatever I’d been roused from death
To witness waited there within the maw
Of that abyss. So, as the feeble light increased,
Seeping slowly like a fetid fog into the pit,
I followed it. The earth was rubble underfoot
As if an antique temple had been toppled

By horrific quake or cataclysm, stones
Like skulls upon the weed-grown path.
What noble place was this, brought down
To such profound destruction, as a carcass
Worried by a pack of famished dogs until the bones
Beneath the flashing teeth are cracked to jagged
Fragments, losing all resemblance to that light hart
That lately graced the forest with its bounding life.

With trembling spirit I descended deeper still,
A Dante into Hell without a guide to steer
My course or tell what scene of horror spread
Before my gaze. Alone and wary I descended
Into that black wilderness. Then deep
Beneath my feet I heard the ghosts of vast
Machines, worm gears grinding in the stygian
Streams of ancient coal seams, blind, voracious
As some monster of the Earth’s primordial infancy,
A mindless juggernaught devouring, devouring.

My soul then knew despair. For there
Upon the edge of that great gaping maw
I saw a fractured slab of stone, a poem carved
And but a single name. A stone I’d set a life before
To mark the grave of Boatswain, faithful friend.
When this forsaken piece of land was still my own,
My heart, my Newstead Abbey. So beloved
From when I stepped, a tender boy in rented coach,
To weedy yard to be a lord of dust and devilry.

It stood above a reedy lake, its gardens wild
With golden gorse, the stately oaks of Sherwood
Sold for Byron debts. But to the boy I was
It was a fairy castle in the purity of morning
Light, its broken walls enchanted battlements,
A child’s fantasy realm, my kingdom. Flawed,
As every human artistry is flawed, yet
The dearer for a sweet fragility, a beauty

In decay. To the last day of my troubled life,
When exiled far from native soil, Newstead
Was the lodestone of my soul, a well of peace
Within the chaos of existence. In truth,
The only one true home I ever knew. And now,
After near a thousand years, now for the sake
Of man’s base greed, for a few sad lumps of coal
The lake, the house, the gardens — gone.
Gone into the abyss. Why bring me back,
Thought I, to break my heart upon this stone?

What had I done to bring this horror on?
Or was it after all impersonal, indifference,
Neglect – demons human-spawned. No
God I could believe in brought such beauty down
To punish faults as petty as my own. No,
What I looked upon was man’s damnation
Of his own best nature – a suicide of spirit,
A cancer nurtured on a meal of shame.

It was a dream. I stood within the welcome shade
Cast by morning sun through the transept’s
Filigree. The silver lake was wreathed in mist.
And Newstead Abbey stood tranquil and whole,
As it has ever been within my mind. A dream.
And not a dream – a warning, the mind’s reminder
Of how close we stand to the crumbling rim,

A hell hand-crafted to our own design,
Creation and destruction ever vying
For the upper hand, a fragile balance
In our power to defend or topple. And lacking
Constant vigilance, comes real this my nightmare.

Armageddon Week

img_4139ARMAGEDDON WEEK

Day six of Armageddon week begins with the sound of a cat scratching his morning poop into a pile – the furnace kicks on with a thrumming base line – the house creaks under its burden of ice.

Beside my cold fireplace the red dot on the modem continues its endless blink, blink, blink. It is the sixth day without Internet, without television, my “service provider” not providing anything in the way of service. The sixth day periodically without telephone or electricity. I am living in the fifteenth century. And I have ceased to care all that much.

That is the revelation that accompanies my morning cup of tea. I am no longer railing against the world. I have decided there is no world.

From somewhere beyond these walls come the sounds of distant planes and cars. But the sounds could be an illusion bred of expectation and the habit of hearing.

I have no notion what is happening Out There – no knowledge of the weather forecast, or current events, or the Facebook status of friends Out There. I am ignorant of my bank balance and current net worth. It is possible those things no longer exist. It is equally possible they no longer matter.

For all I know the Chinese, the Russians, and the KKK have already taken over America. How would I know until they come marching up my snow-covered path chanting incomprehensible slogans?

My plunge back in time started with trying to save a few dollars (What mean “dollars”?) by switching from Comcast to Century Link. I now realize I should have asked to which century they intended to link me, exactly.

The first day or two of “silent running”, Paul and I called Century Link tech support at hourly intervals. The answers to our questions varied with each person we were transferred to. It’s a limited outage. It’s system-wide. 2000 people in the Burien area affected. 20 households affected. Anytime now. Have you tried rebooting? Have you tried unplugging, then re-plugging? What did you say your problem was, again? We’re working on it. We’re waiting for a part. We’ll send you a status email (How will you do that, seein’ as how I have no frikin’ internet service?!)

Then this answer, “The D Slam is down but we’re working on it. Sorry about this .We’ll issue you a credit on the bill. Never have seen such a long outage.” The “D Slam”? Surely they made that one up for my benefit. ETA? Open ended. Either within the hour – or never.

The red modem light blinks, blinks, blinks. I am thinking of putting a Sticky note over it so that it doesn’t continue to draw my eye, reminding me of the communications infrastructure I once took for granted but to which I no longer have access.

Finally 2016 ended – certainly the most wretched year in recent memory. Dorli, Paul, and I had intended to stay up to see the Time’s Square ball drop New Years Eve, watch the televised fireworks over the Space Needle, rejoice in seeing this horrific year DIE, DIE, DIE – but the television was a mute black rectangle on the wall.

Instead, we drank prodigious amounts of wine and binge-watched last season’s Game of Thrones by patching it to the TV from my computer where it was saved. It seemed uniquely appropriate to the mood. “Winter is coming!” Neighbors set off fireworks at midnight. We drank Proseco outside on the deck until two a.m. as tiny snowflakes spun under the porch light.

The first day of 2017 we awoke to four inches of clingy snow stuck to branches, power lines, shrubbery, houses and cars, stacked deck chairs, and hummingbird feeder. Had snow been forecast? We couldn’t know, but here it was, a magical surprise. I sprinted out in slippers and robe to take pictures.

Three hours later the power went out just as we were beginning to think of lunch. (At least with the electricity out that blasted red modem light no longer blinked.) I started a cheery fire in the fireplace, comforted by the fact that there was plenty of firewood beside the garage. We ate leftover cheese and veggie nibbles from the previous evening. Roughing it wasn’t so bad. We could do this thing.

My first Monday in the fifteenth century was a mini ice age. The snow of the previous day had slumped into glacial ski slopes and black ice. I assumed the Highline School district was giving the kiddies an extended vacation, as I observed no vehicles of any kind braving our street, much less school buses. But of course since I had no TV news coverage to consult . . .

Mr. Sanchez across the street made a valiant attempt to get his truck up his driveway, slid backwards into the middle of the street while I watched, white knuckled, praying he didn’t take out my front fence for the second time in a year. I must thank whatever deity heard my plea. He stopped short by two feet.

At least the power hadn’t stayed off long. (It popped back on as soon as I got the fire blazing – blinking modem light and all.) Paul called Century Link – D Slam still slammed. “We’ll call you when we get it up.” Don’t call us, we’ll call you. Assuming the telephone continues to work (it’s provided by Century Link also). I no longer have a cell phone so it’s either the landline or smoke signals these days. Still, we do have firewood if need be.

After the first three days of electronics withdrawal I felt my brain reboot. I quit staring at that damned red light. I washed the dishes, put in a load of laundry, and tidied the house. After which I worked on my 2017 budget and shredded a monster stack of last year’s bills and correspondence. That sucked me into completely tearing apart my office, cleaning and rearranging every last item – actually filing folders in their proper places in the file cabinet! Who knew they even had proper places? Next I tossed a huge pile of old drafts and hardcopies of novels into the recycle bin.

I wrote seven haiku and a very short story that involved an aging woman named Marigold Juliana Hill-Smith (AKA Mary Smith) who supplements her Social Security by taking care of tropical plants in office settings part-time – as well as taking on the occasional industrial espionage assignment. In her further adventures perhaps she will be hired to sabotage a fiber optic network, who knows?

Following that train of thought, remember when the Evil Orange called for someone to shut down the Internet? “Shut it down!” he screamed, his face even more orange than usual. (How he imagined he could continue to tweet with it shut down, I haven’t a clue. He also thought that Bill Gates runs the net. Apparently E. O. doesn’t know Gates is a semi-retired software developer and has no control over the Internet. Figures. E.O. isn’t the brightest star in the firmament.)

As I sit here in the fifteenth century I can see how very affective such an act would be in totally shutting down this country. Putin pulls the plug and we sit staring at the walls of our silent houses, isolated and helpless. It wouldn’t take much, it wouldn’t take very long.

It hasn’t yet been a week and already I’m beginning to panic at the thought that bills are coming due and I have no access to my checking account! I’ve managed my money on line for a decade. Yes, I realize I could probably call my bank (if the phone is functioning that day), find out my balance, and write a paper check. Problem is I believe the envelopes went out with the recycle last week – and I have zero notion where my checkbook is anyway. I haven’t written a check in years. I’m sure I’m only one of millions who have become dependent on electronic bill pay. Were the net to go down for a few months nationwide our entire economy would undoubtedly fall right off a fiscal cliff.

This little side trip into a Twilight Zone episode has taught me a few valuable lessons though: I need to move toward cash when I can, auto-pay where it can be arranged, and pay off any credit cards that still have balances. Not sure how to handle the utilities since I never know what’s due until I see a bill – will think about it. Maybe get on an automatic monthly plan. That way if this happens again I won’t be collecting late charges. Or have my electricity shut off. Or my Century Link server disconnected. Oh wait . . .

Blink, blink, blink.

Underground Railroad novel

Recently read and reviewed a novel called The Underground Railroad. I reacted quite negatively to it because it was filled with meaningless (to me) anachronisms. There may be a deeper reason I reacted so negatively to the inaccuracies in the book – a familial reason. See the following: “But if a Kentucky slave could get into Cincinnati and find safe haven for a few days there was a network of safe havens up into Ohio through many different routes, eventually (leading) to Canada.” What’s interesting to me is that my mother’s family lived in Covington, Kentucky (directly across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio) at that time as well as in Loveland, Ohio. Both towns were stations on the Railroad.

Important to note my great-grandfather was a political refugee from Ireland (came into the country in shackles) and ran a mercantile/general store in Loveland – and could very easily have supplied and hidden runaways.It is possible he knew Levi Coffin since they were both merchants in the area. Do I know Great-grandpa Tierney was involved in moving slaves north? Nope, but it would have been possible. He would have identified with slaves fleeing persecution and bondage. He had fled English oppression of the Irish at the time of the “Famine” in 1848.

Our family has a long history of liberal and even radical activism (Grandma fought for women’s right to vote. Grandpa was in the IWW and for a time was a Communist). I of course fought for women’s rights and marched against the Vietnam War). So I have started playing “what if” – it’s what writers do. What if an Irish Catholic immigrant family who has fled to America to escape English persecution gets involved in helping runaway slaves move north into Canada? What happens to the family? What risks do they run? A new NaNoWriMo novel perhaps?

Vacant lot poem

Poem I’ve been working on today. Thanks, Burien Senior Writers Workshop for helping me with it today. Probably needs more tinkering but so far so good.

SHADOW OF A RED-TAILED HAWK

inscribes circles on the vacant lot,
over dry brown ferns, thistle,
dock and yarrow, fireweed
and Queen Anne’s lace, heavy-seeded
grasses, cabbage moths, crickets,
a wary field mouse, its black jewel
eyes upturned. A man and woman sit
in a discreetly rented car parked
in what was once a driveway
of a modest home his parents lived
within before the war, before the fire,
before the relocation. Nothing left
but desolation, the woman reaches
for his waiting hand. He sighs.

The red-tailed hawk turns, plummets
down upon the mouse. A heartbeat
passes. Rustle in dry grasses. Rush
of wings. The woman lifts her gaze.
And though she knows it should not,
when it comes his kiss surprises her.
And in an instant loss swoops,
talons bared upon the pair. The man
and woman grapple with immensity
as moments pass. She smoothes
her skirt. He starts the car. They drive
away already late in getting back
and going nowhere. The sky is empty
as a stolen love, lifeless as a memory.

The Islander

Today I wrote a poem inspired by the love story of Abelard and Heloise. I put it in couplets though free verse and in a slightly archaic tone as befitting a medieval story. Though of course it’s not about them at all. Enjoy.

THE ISLANDER
“I came hither to ruin myself in a perpetual imprisonment
that I might make you live quietly and at ease.”
Heloise to Abelard

At dusk I think of Abelard, the words that flew between us
long before the winter came, before the severance, the pain.

He lives – or so I have been told – upon a fair, green isle,
writing, corresponding – though not of course with me.

And I have settled here within these garden walls, plucking
errant weeds, and tilling cold clay soil to plant my crops.

Wind tangles in the vines, struggles in the tendrils.
To the abbey cat a sea wind lifting last year’s leaves

is but a tempting mouse on which to pounce. Ah, but to me
it is such another thing. It brings the salty sting of memory.

It carries with it whispers, echoes – secrets that divide
yet bind our solitary lives, my Abelard’s and mine.

Our love lives on in prayerful hands, in dappled sun
and deepening shade – becomes a place to rest

and dream, where time circles, drifts. The seasons
take no notice of us in our chaste and separate cells.

Months, years, decades are swift gulls passing overhead,
the strait a black-blood river linking us. This image

comforts me. Yet it is but deception, fiction that I wrap myself
within to keep the chill at bay, a lie that I have told myself

so long it resonates of truth. In truth love never was the truth
between the two of us. I saw what I was schooled to see.

He turned his back as summer turns to fall, my heart discarded
on a rocky shore. He thought of me no more. They say in time

all hurts will fade away. They lie – scars deep enough will ache
while living flesh remains upon the bones. West at the horizon

his peaceful isle becomes a dark and keen-edged blade at dusk.
Oh, would that it were sharp enough to cut him from my soul.

Toward An Elegant Sufficiency

IMG_3521Well, it’s been almost a year since I visited this page – a year in which I reorganized my little household. A year of tightening purse strings, having lost 60% of my income when my mom died. (And now our food stamps are coming to an end.) Rereading last year’s post this morning I realized how far I’ve come from the panic mode I was in at the beginning of 2015. I was just a bit deer-in-the-headlights for quite some time. Yet I survived an entire year with less than half the funds I’d become accustomed to since retirement. And not only just survived – have done well. The bills got paid. The mortgage is in good shape. There is no bailiff at the door. And there is no shortage of food in the pantry.

Throughout this year-long journey I’ve kept in mind something my great-grandfather Peter Tierney was reputed to have said after each meal: “Thank you, my dear, for an elegant sufficiency.” Peter had survived the Irish Potato Famine of the mid-19th century. He came to America on a coffin ship – though not willingly. Apparently his actions against Ireland’s British overlords almost cost him his life. He never shared the details of how he came to be transported rather than executed – perhaps he had friends in high places. We do know he was shackled so long he was permanently disabled. Yet he triumphed, establishing a profitable dry goods and general store business in Cincinnati Ohio. He married twice, producing four children by his first marriage, two by his second wife, Sarah McHugh (She was known as Sallie. I am her namesake). Peter’s youngest child was my mom’s mother.

 

Peter came out of horrific adversity and privation, building a fulfilling life for himself by maintaining a keen appreciation of what he had, however humble the fare – an elegant sufficiency indeed. On this day – St Bridget’s Day – I’m reminded that it isn’t enough to merely survive and make do. That is poverty mentality. True wealth and health is achieved by VALUING what you have. My grandmother used to say, “We may not have money but we have never been poor – and never will be.” I believe she first heard that from her Grandpa Peter. It sounds like something he would have said. There is no shame in not having money; the shame is in considering yourself poor. Yes, it doesn’t matter if the glass is half full or half empty. What is important is knowing you have a glass – and there’s something in it.

Have a lovely St Bridget’s Day! I’m dehydrating banana and mushrooms this morning – and simmering a pot of stock made with bones from yesterday’s chicken. An elegant sufficiency!